WH Challenges Purview of OGE in Its Inquiry Into Lobbyists

Moore alias British secret agent James Bond is accompanied by co-star Barbara Bach as they arrive for the screening of their latest 007 feature

The executive branch's Office of Government Ethics is trying to find out which of the many former lobbyists hired by the Trump administration may now be working on issues on which they previously lobbied.

For example, if an administration official once worked as a lobbyist, an ethics waiver could allow that person to bypass rules restricting the issues he or she can work on.

This time, the target is the Office of Government Ethics, whose head, Walter Shaub, was attempting to figure out who had been granted ethics waivers by the administration.

That was echoed by Marilyn Glynn, who served as acting director of OGE during the George W. Bush administration, who told The Times the White House's stance is "unprecedented and extremely troubling". But any time the administration provided such a waiver, it automatically published a detailed explanation as to why an exception was being made.

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Despite signing an executive order in January prohibiting former lobbyists, industry lawyers, and consultants who are hired as political appointees from working for two years on issues involving former employers or clients (weakening the Obama-era version of the restriction), President Donald Trump has stacked his administration with such employees, presumably by granting waivers to the rules. Soon after, he raised concerns about the president moving forward with cabinet nominees before the Office of Government Ethics could complete an ethics review process - and then blew the whistle when Trump's nominees pushed back against the government's ethics requirements with "a ferocity we've not previously seen".

In a statement issued Sunday evening, the Office of Management and Budget rejected the criticism and instead blamed Shaub, saying his call for the information, issued in late April, was motivated by politics.

If it weren't for the other scandals hanging over the Trump White House, this would be a tough controversy for the president and his team to explain away.

Mulvaney slammed the ethics watchdog for leaking his initial letter to the press, claiming it implied that "the data being sought is not being collected to satisfy our mutual high standard of ethics".

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However, the law does not give OGE any real ability to enforce non-compliance with this request, at least not without the assistance of the White House, which does not seem eager to comply.

The Trump administration has been feuding with the OGE since late November, when Shaub began publicly urging the president-elect to sell off his real-estate assets. The office has clear legal authority to request such information.

Democrats on the committee had already ripped into the Trump administration on Friday for refusing to respond to their requests to see the waivers. His daughter, Ivanka, brought her own when she took a job in the White House after insisting she'd just be a daughter. But it said the request on the waivers had an "expansive scope and breathless timetable". "I, therefore, request that you stay the data call until these questions are resolved".

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